Toddling at the State Fair

 In Relationships, SHIFT

“We’re here, we’re here, we’re here, we’re here…” two and a half year-old Eliana squealed nonstop as we parked at the State Fair. For days her parents and we, her grandparents, had been priming her for this visit by telling her of the animals she would see and touch.

We carefully lined up the list of activities based on what we saw her interests to be, with a major focus on animals. Our first stop was the petting zoo.

What a difference a year makes. Last year Ellie was shy and a little intimidated by the often-aggressive critters pushing to be fed by the little visitors. This year she ran almost frantically from creature to creature squealing and laughing, hugging and feeding. When she found a little lamb or goat lying down she cuddled its head and did her empathetic baby speak, “Oh, are you okay?  It’s okay, sweetie!”  I thought she might have been scared of the tall llama, but she petted it on its tail, which twitched suddenly drawing an excited exclamation from little El. She would have been happy to spend the entire visit right there, but we decided to push on to let her see the cows, horses, sheep and goats.

Coming out of the zoo, we joined Grandpa who had discovered the goat-milking area. Ellie hurtled over to the harnessed goat and began feeding her random bits of hay. Our explanation of where milk comes from apparently went straight over the head of our little animal lover. It became more real to her as she and I got our turn to milk the goat. And on to the cows.

As our eyes adjusted to entering the dim cow barn, I realized Ellie was already ahead of us running toward a row of tethered cows, her face alight. She seemed nonplussed to connect these monstrous beasts with the ones she frequently encounters on the pages of her story books. She plunged on undaunted wanting to get close to them. It was Grandma who applied the brakes and added words of caution.

At the end of that row we came upon a real live princess, complete with tiara.  Judging from Ellie’s face, this was heaven. She lives and breathes princesses.  The gracious young Holstein Princess allowed us to snap a picture of her and Ellie with her own Holsteins. Almost dragging her away to the goats and sheep just beyond, we steered our celebrity-struck toddler deeper into the barn.

Grandpa took over here and was trying to explain to our young charge how she could tell which type of goat it was from their ears. From El’s expression we could not tell how much she was taking in, but we have seen our grandchildren listen apparently passively and then spit back what they learned months later. Grandpa continued undeterred, “See, Ellie, this kind has almost no ears. It’s a La Mancha.”

We intermittently held her hand and pushed our grandaughter in her stroller past the horse stalls allowing an occasional nose petting of these regal equine critters. Making a left at the Freesias we set out on the trail to the farm area to look for newborn cows and pigs. As we passed we made note of the tractor and truck overgrown with grass and took a picture with an amazed little girl.

Nearing the birthing area, we found a cluster of onlookers near a straining cow close to calving. This sight didn’t hold much interest for little El, so we moved on to where there were several litters of newborn piglets. Her squeals matched those of the babies as they pushed and shoved, jockeying for the best position to nurse. The height of this experience was when Ellie was allowed to hold a squirming baby pig.

By this time we were ready to find some shade and a place to sit down to eat our picnic lunch. Our toddler could barely concentrate on eating for watching the 360-degree sights. She was enthralled with what she thought was real ducks floating in the water. With her lunch half eaten, I accompanied her to the shore to explore plants and creeping things, pausing for some “ooh”s and “ah”s at the Koi pond.

As our Fair experience drew to an end we came upon the pony rides and decided to let Ellie “ride a horsie.” Her glee was unbounded as she circled the little arena clutching the saddle horn. Dismounting and saying goodbye she was ready to return to the petting zoo before leaving.

This time Ellie ran to each “aminal” to give hugs and say, “See you later.” As if our experience had not already been full, she took a parting turn at churning her own butter. This was a treasure to take to Mom and Dad.

Settling back in her stroller, sucking on a fruit smoothie, a delighted and tired little girl was ready to head for home.

There is something for every age at the State Fair. We have often seen parents send their children off in clusters in various directions. Perhaps not all families have the luxury of having grandparents who have the time to personalize the Fair for their littlest ones. Escorting our little El was equally satisfying to us. Everyone should get to experience such wonders through the twinkling eyes of the very young. Her enthusiasm refreshed our old souls.

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